The Bicameral Mind
The Origin of the Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind by Julian Jaynes is a well known treatise in academic circles, and created quite a controversy when first published in 1977. Based on the contrast between ancient myths, which are dominated by ‘gods,’ and the modern world, which completely discounts such entities, the author proposed that the mind of mankind in these two periods was profoundly different. He suggests that before 3,000 BC men had no ‘consciousness’, no ability to reach reasonable conclusions based on objective observations. Fundamental aspects of this hypothesis are that consciousness derives from language, enabling the development of new, more sophisticated, concepts from older ones via metaphor, and the ability to see ones life as part of a narrative. Somewhat confusing in this context is Jaynes suggestion that the trauma of ice age climatic variations, between 70,000 and 8,000 BC, might have stimulated the development of language, while its effect in establishing consciousness did not manifest itself until 3,000 BC.
In lieu of consciousness, Jaynes hypothesizes that ancient man had a ‘bicameral mind’ in which ‘gods’ occupied a large portion of the right temporal lobe, an area which currently seems under-utilized. These ‘gods’ were manifested as inner voices, which continually dictated the actions of the person via the left half of the brain. His thesis is based heavily on the Iliad, in which everything that men did was said to be ‘commanded’ by the Greek gods. He likens the bicameral process to ‘voices’ that schizophrenics hear in modern times, indeed he suggests that the latter are possibly a carry-over from the former. One difficult aspect of this hypothesis is the apparent agreement among the ‘voices’ all the members of each group were hearing. Why did not each person go off in a different direction, working, playing or even killing others as his ‘voice’ demanded? To counter this objection, Jaynes suggests that the impulses suggested by the voices may have originated in instructions from a real ‘king’, which were subsequently internalized for daily use.
During the third millennium BC, due primarily to stresses created by natural catastrophes and by the growth of populations to the point that cultures clashed, this Jaynes suggests that the bicameral mind began to break down, and the collective ‘mindset’ of mankind changed to its modern form. This profound change in men everywhere supposedly occurred in one millennium, a very difficult notion to accept.
This book essentially acknowledges that academics are conscious of, and perhaps troubled by the stark differences of the mythical (catastrophic) past with their currently accepted paradigm, uniformitarianism. As far-fetched as the concept of a complete reorganization of the minds of every person on Earth sounds, it would allow academia to keep all the present uniformitariam structure intact and minimize the embarresment that would result from its complete overthrow.
In Firmament I suggest a completely different rationale for the profound changes of the outlook evident in ancient myth, versus modern times, but I do agree with some of the radical changes which Jaynes suggests. First, I agree that language developed quite late, even later than he suggested, based particularly on passages in the Rig Veda, for example:
“Speech, such as the ..(first verse in the Rigveda), was originally confused, i.e. unvaried like the roar of the sea, etc., and undistinguished, i.e. without articulation to denote crude [primitive] forms, inflections, words, and sentences, etc. Then Indra, being solicited by the gods … divided in the middle speech, which had previously been without division, and introduced everywhere the distinction of crude forms, inflections, etc. In consequence, this Speech, being now distinguished in its parts … is pronounced by all men.”
I date the advent of the Vedic period at slightly after 4,000 BC, which corresponds almost exactly to the age of man as determined by the sequence of the patriarchs from Adam to Jesus enumerated in Genesis.1.
Second, I agree that a world-wide change occurred which profoundly divides the worlds in which ancient and modern man lived. But suggest that this was due to a 3000 year period of controlled cosmic encounters of Mercury, Mars and Venus with the Earth during the Bronze and Iron Ages.
Proto-Venus, whose birth from an impact on Jupiter triggered this planetary chaos, approached and completely devastated the Earth on two closely spaced occasions. The destruction is best described by Plato, in Timaeus and Critius. We also suggest that the second verse of Genesis (1:2 KJV) in the Christian Bible refers to the state of the Earth immediately after these encounters, “And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep.” Proto-Venus then kicked what I call priori-Mars out of its ancient orbit, comparable to Venus’ current orbit, into one which intersected that of the Earth. With proto-Venus, priori-Mars and Earth in resonant orbits, the effect of Venus was to enable priori-Mars to be captured in a geosynchronous orbit around the Earth for fourteen or fifteen years at a time and then to be released into orbit around the Sun for an equal period. This process was repeated one hundred times before priori-Mars split into two, its core moving into the inner solar system forming what is now known as Mercury and the outer shell collapsed in on itself to form what we now call Mars.
Thus, there were three planets, all of which greatly disturbed the Earth, causing irregularities in its rotation, floods, deluges from ‘heaven,’ earthquakes and the raining down of great masses of rock and red dust onto the Earth. While orbiting the Earth over the Trans-Himalayas only 33,000 km from the Earth’s surface, priori-Mars became an enormous ‘stage’ on which the people of the Earth observed floods, marsquakes, violent eruptions, seven great volcanos and an enormous hardened lava fountain which extended 1000 km down toward the Earth from its north pole, spewing flames and surrounded by heat-tornadoes. It was these features and bodies and the continuously threatening events observed on priori-Mars that were the ‘gods’ of the myths, but they were very real, killing millions of people on Earth.
The mind of man was very similar to ours today as evidenced by the human reactions, recorded in the most ancient Rig Veda. For example, when priori-Mars orbited stationary in the sky (geosynchronously) over the Mt. Kailas, ‘Indra’s home on Earth,’ the Vedas questioned how this enormous body remained fixed in the sky without falling:
How is it that, unbound and unsupported, he falleth not although directed downward.
By what self power moves he?
Who hath seen it? 2
The following quote makes the analogy between the planets which swoop down towards the Earth, in apparently random fashion, like dice being cast onto a playing board, and resulting in good fortune for some and bad for others.
Downward they roll on the dice board, but they bob up on high; handless themselves, they vanquish those that have (powerful) hands. Cast on the board they shine like glowing embers; they are cool no doubt, but how they burn up my heart! 3
In a similar vein, the transient nature of riches in that environment is emphasized, since any man, no matter how rich, could be quickly destroyed by the approaching ‘god.’
The dice their victims hook and tear, Disturbing, torturing, false though fair. The transient gains they yield today, Tomorrow all are swept away.
The poor stood to gain and the rich to lose in the catastrophic encounters between planets. However, some of the rich hoarded food when such an encounter seemed imminent. These people, who would not share their bounty in times of great travail, were greatly despised:
A man, inhumane and ungenerous, in vain, overstocks himself with provisions. In very truth, this will be the death of him; a man who does not feed his elders and companions, but feasts all alone, is Sin incarnate.
As the ominous Indra (priori-Mars) approached the Earth, many of the rich did began to give alms to the poor in hopes that the threatening god would see this as a benevolent act, and spare the giver his wrath. The poor, on the other hand, knew this to be the case and used the opportunity to extract some additional ‘baksheesh’ from the otherwise stingy rich, by recalling for their benefit how destinies vary each time the planet approaches the Earth:
Relieve the poor while yet ye may; Down future time’s long vista look, And try to read that darkling book; Your riches soon may flit away. Ye cannot trust their fickle grace. As chariot wheels in ceaseless round Now upward turn, now touch the ground, So riches ever change their place.
These quotes are of great value to our hypothesis, because they emphasize the repetitiveness and reality of the catastrophic events that occurred during the Vedic period. No myth, or fairy story, in the sense usually thought of in the modern world, would evoke these gut-level feelings. The minds of these ancient peoples was no different than our own today, but the heavens were.
1Original Sanskrit Texts, John Muir, v.2, p.211-213
2The Heart of the Rig Veda, p.138